There isn’t much that makes Lawrence High’s baseball team sweat. Not even a one-run lead late in the game.
So when Blue Springs South (Mo.) trailed by a run entering the seventh inning Tuesday night at LHS, the Lions thought they had their opponents right where they wanted them.
It turned out the opposite was true. The Jaguars plated three runs and held on for a 9-7 victory.
Just when it looked as if the Lions, who had trailed by as many as three in their home opener, might escape with a victory, Blue Springs South’s three-run seventh assured LHS of its first loss of the young season.
BSS (1-1) had runners on first and third with two out against Lions reliever Cameron Solko when Jaguars junior Taylor Sprague tied the game at 7 with a base hit up the middle.
After the Jags’ leadoff hitter, Jared Ginter, drew a walk to load the bases, sophomore Colton Pogue knocked in two decisive runs with a double to the left-field gap.
Lawrence coach Brad Stoll said the Blue Springs South lineup, which racked up 14 hits, punished the Lions.
“That team can flat swing it,” Stoll said. “They came out and they came swinging right off the bus, so a lot of credit to them — the fact that they didn’t back down and they had a whole lot of good swings all night long.”
After watching his team fall to 2-1, Stoll said the LHS dugout had felt good about its one-run advantage after six innings.
“Obviously, the confidence level was really high, because of the way we have pitched it in the past,” Stoll said, “and you trust a kid like Cam Solko and all the arms that we have.”
After LHS senior Troy Willoughby got the Lions out of the top of the seventh by forcing a ground-out, BSS reliever Brett Valentine retired Lawrence in order to end the game.
LHS junior third baseman Shane Willoughby, who went 3-for-4 at the plate and scored two runs, said the seventh inning wasn’t the difference in the loss.
“It all comes down to earlier — not scoring runs earlier in the game, not making plays earlier in the game,” Shane said.
The Lions committed two errors, and they were costly. The game was tied at 3 after four innings before the Jaguars scored three runs in the top of the fifth. One came when LHS catcher Drew Green tried to throw out a BSS runner at third and the ball ended up in the outfield. Later, a bobble and low throw by Shane Willoughby at third led to another run for the Jaguars.
Said Stoll: “Particularly with a team that’s swinging the bats like that, you can’t give ‘em freebies. You want them to earn ‘em, try to minimize the base hits.”
The Jaguars had built a 6-3 lead before Lawrence rallied to score four in the bottom of the sixth.
Lions senior designated hitter Garrett Cleavinger opened the spurt with a walk, and sophomore Kieran Severa followed up a one-out single by senior Trevor Champagne by slapping a two-run double to left field, cutting the Jaguars’ lead to 6-5.
Shane Willoughby singled to keep things going before, with two outs, his older brother, Troy, hit a hard ground ball to shortstop that South’s Pogue couldn’t quite handle, allowing LHS to score two more runs and take the lead.
Trailing 2-0 in the third, Lawrence earned its first advantage on a three-run homer to right field by junior CJ Stuever.
The setback, Shane said, won’t knock the Lions off track as they pursue a state championship.
“Losing’s no fun, but I’d rather lose now than in May, at the end of the year,” the junior said. “I think this is almost good for us, to get this one out of the way. I think it gives us almost kind of a reality check.”
At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, LHS plays host to Olathe Northwest.